Friday, December 31, 2004

Moral values spin back forward

By Brad A. Greenberg
Staff Writer
The Sun

Morality in 2004 moved from a bit part to a leading role at least in the public consciousness.

Moral values were a drum constantly beat by pundits and politicians. Janet Jackson's "wardrobe malfunction' at the Super Bowl kicked off the discussion that continued through the November election, in which, many say, moral values helped give President Bush four more years.

Political observers argue how significant an impact moral values, a vast and vague category of issues that range from profanity to abortion, had on the Nov. 2 election. Some see it as a simplified explanation for his re-election amid a controversial war, a questionable economy and a soaring budget deficit.

But values clearly were constant fodder for dinner conversations, campaign speeches, newspaper columns and 24-hour news channels.

"Janet Jackson had a hugely disproportionate impact on people, and it became a token for cleaning up culture,' said Shaun Bowler, a UC Riverside professor of political science.

Moral values, he said, have been hyped "by people who have a vested interest in doing that.'

Experts said Republicans and Christian advocacy groups were brilliant at focusing the presidential campaign on a trifecta of political trouble for candidates: stem-cell research, gay marriage and abortion.

Conservative groups framed Bush, who opposed all three, as "pro-family' and Massachusetts Sen. John F. Kerry, his Democratic challenger, as "anti-morals' because he supported stem-cell research and a woman's right to choose.

Conservatives mobilized in early February when the Massachusetts Supreme Court ruled that gay couples deserved the same rights as straight, married couples. A week later, San Francisco Mayor Gavin Newsom violated California law, the state Supreme Court later ruled, by telling the city clerk to start issuing marriage licenses to gay couples. Several cities and counties across the country followed suit.

The president and Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger declared Newsom's activism a sign that liberal judges and city officials needed to be reigned in.

Moral values became a political hot button "because advocates of the more liberal stance on these issues overreached,' said Jack Pitney, a Claremont McKenna College political science professor.

Eleven states responded in November by passing constitutional amendments banning gay marriage.

"This year, the kinds of conversations that have been happening in America finally spilled out into the open,' said Kristi Hamrick, a spokeswoman for the Arlington, Va.,-based conservative gro Values.

It is important to discuss whether Bush has a plan to get the American military out of Iraq, she said, "but when you ask people concerning them, and what is keeping them up at night, it is first and foremost the country and the environment in which their children are being raised.'

"I've got four kids,' she continued. "I care about what's on TV. It bothers me if Janet Jackson does a peep show.'

America's fascination with its own morality is nothing new, said Pitney, a former staffer for the Republican National Committee.

"People have always been concerned about moral values,' he said, "but it was a subject of a good deal of discussion because of President Bush's use of moral language and his outward religious fervor, and also by Sen. Kerry's attempt to recapture some of the moral issues for Democrats.'

Kerry struck a moral chord with people who felt Bush had lied about why the United States invaded Iraq.

Kerry voters who felt moral values were "very important' were more likely to mention honesty and integrity than Bush supporters who also lauded moral values, a Harris Poll released last week shows.

But voters who backed Bush were nearly twice as likely to say moral values were "very important' 59percent of Bush voters compared with 30percent of Kerry supporters.

"There was a stronger tendency in this election for many people to believe that the candidates they supported were more moral than the other candidate,' said Humphrey Taylor, chairman of the Harris But that's not unusual in elections, he said.

People voted based on moral values more than any other issue the economy, education, taxes, Social Security, health care in 1996 and 2000, Los Angeles Times exit polls show.

Many observers said moral values have been perceived as more decisive in 2004 because of how they were portrayed, likening it to the "scary world' Americans perceived during the 1990s.

Violent crime fell throughout the country, but newspapers and television stations carried regular stories about murder and rape. Studies have shown that most people thought violent crimes had increased.

"In a year when the war is such a big problem and the economy is such a big problem, moral values are important,' said Diane Winston media and religion professor at USC. "But the media blew it out of proportion.

"It's sensational and it is easy to make headlines out of it. It is tremendously over-hyped.'

There was also the hoopla that followed the exposure of Janet Jackson's breast at the Super Bowl halftime show. In a case against shock jock Howard Stern, Viacom settled with the Federal Communi Commission for $3.5million. Later, a number of ABC affiliates refused to air the 1998 Academy Award-nominated World War II film, " Ryan,' because they feared the previously broadcast movie's gore and profanity would draw FCC fines.

The outspoken were split between those who believed civil liberties were being stolen and those who thought popular culture and American morals had swirled down the drain. Most Americans didn't think the situation was so dire, media scholars said.

"I see these pop cultural debates as being between people who thought the '50s were the greatest of times and the people who th weiler, chairman of the Department of Mass Communications at the Christian-affiliated Biola University in La Mirada.

"To (the younger) generation, they view Janet Jackson at the Super Bowl ... as a yawn,' said Detweiler, author of "The Matrix of Meanings: Finding God in Pop Culture.' "It is really much ado about nothing.'

At the same time, he said, studies have shown "that we are looking at one of the best-behaved generations ever.'

For example: The number of teenagers who are sexually active dropped from 55 percent in 1995 to 46 percent in 2002, according to the National Survey for Family Growth released last month.

"On one side, we hear people warning about a decline in moral values,' said Ptiney. "On the other side, we see people warning about theocracy.

"Issues of moral conduct have always been a part of American life and will continue to be.'

Sunday, October 17, 2004

Faith, body, art

From: The Sun

RIALTO - Disciple Johnny prays for those he tattoos.

Johnny Neuneker prays as he scars arms, legs, backs and necks. He doesn't know what the person believes in or if he'll change their life. But he prays.

And while he does, his customers absorb the Christian images that surround them and ask questions.

"Wow, is this a Christian tattoo shop?' Neuneker hears often. "I didn't know you could be Christian and have a tattoo.'

The debate over that very question rages on. But, largely popularized by the emergence of God-praising punk and hard-core music during the past decade, more and more Christians have taken to tattoos.

The 30-year-old owner of Heroes and Madmen on Riverside Avenue has found his spiritual niche. Through tattooing and piercing, the ngly rough crowd.

"The churches of today need to be on the front lines. I see this ministry on the front lines of everything,' said Neuneker, who started a Bible study in his shop's lobby.

As unusual as it sounds, he is part of a growing movement. About 500 Christian tattoo shops exist throughout the nation and in Britain and Australia, according to the Christian Tattoo Association.

"We represent a positive aspect of tattooing. We don't get into drugs or drinking or anything like that,' said Steve "Pastor Freak' Bensinger, association director and pastor of the Come As You Are church in Kalamazoo, Mich.

"People tell me I can't be Christian because I have tattoos,' Bensinger said. "That is completely crazy.'

Christians who think ill of tattoos cite Leviticus 19:28: "Do not cut your bodies for the dead or put tattoo marks on yourselves.'

Proponents counter that Christians are not bound by this verse, which is part of the Levitical Code. Some even believe, based on Revelation 19:16, that Jesus will have a tattoo when he returns: "On his robe and on his thigh this name written: King of kings and lord of lords.'

"To argue one way or the other is really to misuse the Bible,' said Philip Amerson, president of Claremont School of Theology. "It's what is called proof-texting starting with the answer you want and using the Scripture to prove it.'

A tattoo ministry, Amerson said, follows Jesus' tradition of serving society's fringe.

"I suspect there won't be any churches that would set this up in the sanctuary,' Amerson said, "but this kind of outreach ... goes back through Christian history.'

Some of the people who enter Heroes and Madmen want nothing to do with Christianity. Neuneker takes a passive approach to sharing his faith and only does when asked. He doesn't know how effective his efforts are.

"That's not my job,' he said. "I'm a sower not a reaper. God does the harvesting.'

In the year since Heroes and Madmen opened, Neuneker's brothers and sisters have taken a particular liking to his shop.

Take Redlands resident Ben Dooley, who got his first tattoo four years ago and suddenly stopped.

"I wanted to get stuff done by a Christian tattoo artist,' said Dooley, 26.

While driving up Riverside Avenue one day, he spotted a Jesus sign in the window of Heroes and Madmen and popped inside.

Christian images surrounded him music, pictures, drawings, shirts, stickers and TV programs.

"People don't just have the hobby of collecting Jesus stuff,' Dooley said. "They have a reason behind it.'

Before long, he was leading worship in the lobby and helping Neuneker arrange services with alternative Jesus machines such as musical group Gospel is a Grenade and heavily tattooed-speaker Jay Bakker, son of Jim Bakker of notorious televangelism fame.

From motorcycle ministries to amateur wrestling night, Christians constantly use the unexpected to attract the distracted.

"God has called us to reach out to people in the gutter, not just wait for them to come to us, whether they have tattoos or piercings or they are rockers or into porn,' said Craig Gross, co-founder of the XXX Church in Corona, which helps Christians who struggle with pornography.

Heroes and Madmen doesn't stand out of the Rialto landscape in the same way the XXX Church's Porn Mobile does in a conservative church parking lot. Neuneker takes a softer approach to spreading the Gospel even though hard-core music screaming "Jesus is Lord' blares in his store.

Kent Anderson Butler does the same. The Azusa Pacific University art professor usually wears shorts while teaching students how to integrate art into their Christian faith. On his calf is a tattoo of the Celtic symbol for the Trinity with the sun behind it.

"I get all kinds of different reactions. A lot of times, my students will be a little surprised,' Anderson Butler said. "I'm not afraid to talk about it, or whatever. Every once in a while I'll get in some conversations (about it) out on the street.'

And that gives strangers a window into his faith.

"To me, that is pretty cool,' he said.

Saturday, September 11, 2004

Patriot Act carves away basic rights

From: The Sun

"Those that can give up essential l
iberty to obtain a little temporary safety deserve neither liberty nor safety." - Benjamin Franklin

As the nation struggles for security in the wake of 9-11, it is whittling away at its own foundation the Bill of Rights.

Civil liberties have been sacrificed as the government attempts to keep us safe.

Laws passed shortly after the attacks on the World Trade Center and the Pentagon three years ago allow law enforcement to detain suspects indefinitely without pressing criminal charges.

Under the USA Patriot Act, authorities may search homes unannounced and monitor Internet, phone, medical and library records without evidence of wrongdoing.

"The point of the Patriot Act is to stop terrorist attacks. It would not do us any good to prosecute someone after they have murdered 3,000 of our people," said U.S. Department of Justice spokesman Mark Carallo.

"A lot of times you will find us charging individuals with minor violations visa expirations, bank fraud," Carallo said. "If it gets them off the streets before they can advance their plots and plans, we've done our job."

The problem with this philosophy, critics say, is that it deprives people of their constitutional rights.

"The Patriot Act is pretty much irrelevant to the war on terrorism," said William Green, a national security professor at Cal State San Bernardino and a member of the Naval Reserve, because terrorists are secretive.

Flexible definition
How the Justice Department identifies terrorists is unknown. The criteria depends on who's in charge.

"Future administrations may consider you a terrorist if you belong to a pro-gun group, a citizen militia or a pro-life organization," wrote Rep. Ron Paul, R-Texas, on his Web site in May. "Legitimate protest against the government could place you and tens of thousands of other Americans under government surveillance."

In April, the Secret Service questioned a 15-year-old boy who drew President Bush with his head on a stick with devil horns. They also confiscated the Prosser, Wash., high school student's drawings of a flaming Constitution and Bill of Rights.

Such a violation of the constitutional right to free speech "is the vision of Nazi Germany," said University of Chicago law professor Geoffrey Stone, author of "Perilous Times: Free Speech in War Time," which will be released in October.

Stone voiced a growing fear that the USA Patriot Act and recent executive orders allow the government to oppress at will.

"To those who scare peace-loving people with phantoms of lost liberty, my message is this: Your tactics aid terrorists," Attorney General John Ashcroft testified at a Senate Judiciary Committee hearing Dec. 6, 2001, the eve of the 60th anniversary of the Pearl Harbor attack.

The patriotic response
"The Patriot Act is al-Qaida's worst nightmare," Ashcroft said in July while touting the nation's success at preventing another attack from the Islamic extremist group behind the 9-11 attacks.

Now highly controversial, the USA Patriot Act United and Strengthening America by Providing Appropriate Tools Required to Intercept and Obstruct Terrorism zipped through Congress six weeks after the Sept. 11 attacks with minimal public scrutiny.

"There is more power than ever in the executive branch ... and some of that you might argue justifiably," said Avi Cover of Human Rights First, an international group of lawyers that promotes freedom and human rights. "But the level of openness and knowledge has decreased."

The Justice Department has released little information about how it fights terrorism domestically. It reported in July that between Sept. 11, 2001, and May 5, terrorism investigations resulted in 179 convictions or guilty pleas.

Though the report stated the USA Patriot Act was integral to these investigations, it did not report whether those convictions and guilty pleas were terrorism-related.

Six days after 9-11, FBI agents in Detroit arrested four suspected members of a terrorist "sleeper cell" during a sweep of Arab immigrants. Ashcroft said the men may have had prior knowledge of the World Trade Center and Pentagon attacks.

In what was heralded as the first jury-trial victory against terrorism, two of the men were convicted of conspiracy to provide material support to terrorists; one was convicted of document fraud; and one was acquitted.

But nine days ago, after a Justice Department internal investigation reported the prosecution deliberately withheld evidence useful to the defense, a federal judge ordered a new trial for the two convicted of providing material support, Abdel-Ilah Elmardoudi and Karim Koubriti.

After the findings were reported, Carallo told The Sun that the Justice Department has not violated civil liberties.

"We do everything within the bounds of the Constitution," the spokesman said. "I would like someone to name a civil liberty that has been infringed upon."

With the USA Patriot Act up for renewal next year, President Bush has asked for additional powers: wider use of the federal death penalty, tougher bail for suspected terrorists and FBI powers to issue subpoenas without a judge or grand jury approval.

Being Muslim
Added security measures don't make Amita Vaidya feel any safer.

On Dec. 4, 2002, she was three months from transferring from the Hewlett Packard office in Cupertino to a bureau in the United Arab Emirates. It was a promotion, and it came with a salary increase and a housing and transportation allowance.

But when a Mountain View police officer stopped Vaidya for a broken brake light that day, the 38-year-old human resources assistant's future fell apart.

The San Jose resident had recently returned from visiting her new office in Dubai, and when she reached for her driver's license, about 800 Dirhams spilled onto the seat.

Officer Todd Krasno snatched the money without her permission, Vaidya said.

"He asked if it was false money and I said, `No, it is currency from the Middle East,' which I probably shouldn't have done," she said.

Vaidya, who is Indian and has dark skin and hair, said Krasno then asked if she is Muslim.

Vaidya demanded to speak with his supervisor. When the sergeant arrived, she said she would only speak with a "minority officer," the police report states.

Vaidya was arrested for not signing a notice to appear in court. She was taken to the police station, where she claims more officers questioned her.

"The questions were the same," she said. "They asked me if I was a Muslim, if I celebrated Ramadan. They asked if my luggage was searched when I came back from Dubai at the San Francisco airport. They asked me if I am a U.S. citizen, (and) where I was raised."

The Police Department has no record of a formal interrogation, Public Information Officer Jim Bennett said.

Vaidya was booked for a busted brake light and obstructing a peace officer and was released two hours later. The officers said she did not provide her driver's license. She refused to plead guilty and the case dragged on for 19 months, which prohibited her from leaving the country. She forfeited her new job. When she reapplied for her old job at Hewlett Packard, Vaidya was told to come back when her case was over. A Bank of America recruiter told her the same.

Her third attorney finally convinced her to plead no contest in June to not providing the officer with her license. She has since moved back in with her parents and works at a San Jose preschool that her mother runs.

Vaidya speaks of the incident tearfully. She doesn't understand why her attorneys wouldn't allow her a jury trial where it would be her word against three police officers'.

But she has an opinion about why a routine traffic stop changed her life.

"They arrested me because they thought I was a Muslim," Vaidya said.

Krasno left the Police Department earlier this year and was unavailable for comment. The department declined to say why or where he went, citing confidentiality. The police report does not mention money or Islam. Witness against himself In the government's zeal to stop terrorist attacks on U.S. soil, the Justice Department has used preemptive tactics.

"People are being arrested and held as material witnesses when they are not believed to be witnesses to a crime of somebody else, but to themselves," said Ronald Carlson, a University of Georgia law professor specializing in material witnesses.

"It is a disguise to hold them indefinitely," he said.

The USA Patriot Act did not spawn the material witness law, but the Justice Department is putting it to a new use.

The law has existed since the early 1800s. It was designed to detain criminal witnesses who posed a flight risk. It now allows law enforcement to arrest first and investigate later.

In May, the FBI used it to arrest Portland, Ore.-based lawyer Brandon Mayfield, a suspect in the Madrid, Spain, bombings that killed 191 in March.

In Mayfield, the government found a lot of speculative evidence Muslim convert, Egyptian wife, phone call to an Islamic foundation, client later convicted of terrorism, partial fingerprint on a plastic bag involved with the bombing but nothing concrete.

Just to be safe, Mayfield was detained and defamed. News headlines labeled him "Madrid Mayfield," though the FBI filed no charges.

Three weeks later, the bureau apologized and released Mayfield. The fingerprint on the bag belonged to another man.

Mayfield recently hired Gerry Spence, a renowned trial lawyer based in Jackson Hole, Wyo., and plans to sue the United States.

Reached at their respective law offices, both men declined to comment.

The Justice Department reported to Congress in January 2003 that less than 50 people had been held as material witnesses.

"I believe the number is much higher," said Cover, Human Rights First counsel.

An exact number never has been provided. Doing so would compromise terrorism investigations, said Bryan Sierra, a Justice spokesman.

FBI making checks
In anticipation of violent protests at the Democratic and Republican national conventions this summer, FBI agents visited a handful of activists around the country.

The questions were the same: Do you know of plans for mayhem? If you did, would you tell us? Do you know that failing to share such information is a crime?

One FBI spokesman said the interrogations were part of an ongoing criminal investigation, which he declined to discuss. There was evidence protesters planned to throw Molotov cocktails at media tents in Boston, said Carallo, the Justice Department spokesman.

Both conventions occurred with minimal violence. Despite hundreds of thousands flooding New York streets to protest President Bush and the Iraq War, there were few reported incidents of mayhem, though police arrested more than 1,700 protesters.

The FBI visits had sent a clear message: You're being watched.

"It's got to be harassment," said Paul Bame, an anti-globalization activist who without warning was visited at work before the Democratic National Convention.

"You know that feeling you get when the flashing red light goes off in your rearview mirror?" asked the 45-year-old Fort Collins, Colo., resident. "It's more intimidating when you are not speeding. And since I am not planning criminal activities, it's like why is this guy calling me? It's scaring me."

The Justice Department, in a five-page memo to FBI field offices in April, said such FBI activities would not violate the Constitution.

"It is doubtful that the mere monitoring and reporting of lawful protest activity, without more, would raise any substantial First Amendment problems," the memo stated. Watch what you read Section 215 of the USA Patriot Act has received more public criticism than any other provision, and from an unlikely group of activists librarians.

The provision allows the government to obtain library records and gags librarians from telling anyone if it happens.

"I find it stinks of totalitarianism," said San Bernardino Public Library Director Ophelia Roop, who was born in Communist Bulgaria and lived there for 15 years.

The concern for librarians is that the government will flag certain books as terrorist propaganda, discouraging or preventing people from reading them.

"This was one of the biggest criticisms in the United States against communism," Roop said, "that people couldn't read freely or think freely."

The 64,000-member American Library Association resolved in January 2003 that "sections of the USA Patriot Act are a present danger to the constitutional rights and privacy rights of library users."

Ashcroft said in September 2003 that library records had not been obtained, but he has not reported to Congress about it since. Carallo said its use is confidential.

Vocal concern, action
Though Congress has not amended the USA Patriot Act, a grass-roots movement to overturn portions of it has spread across the country. Three hundred fifty-two cities, counties and states have passed such resolutions.

California cities, including Los Angeles, account for 50. Arcata and Ukiah, two small Northern California cities, passed ordinances that prohibit local law enforcement from assisting the federal government.

Not a single community in San Bernardino, Riverside, Orange, San Diego or Imperial counties is on this list. Southland resolutions against the law end at the Los Angeles County-San Bernardino County line, on the east end of Claremont, where the city of 35,000 condemned the USA Patriot Act in February 2003.

A bipartisan resolution introduced in the California Legislature last year would urge Congress to repeal portions of the USA Patriot Act that violate civil liberties.

"The noise of concern is loud enough that it is worth the federal government listening to," said Assemblyman Ray Haynes, R-Riverside, the principal co-author.

The way those in Congress interpret that noise differs.

"Tapping your phones. Going into your homes. Profiling. A multitude of civil liberties ... that could be abused all in the frame of law and order," said Rep. Joe Baca, D-Rialto, who voted for the act but said it has been ineffective.

On the opposite side is Rep. David Dreier, a staunch Bush supporter.

"Looking back, the Patriot Act has been an explicit success," said the Glendora Republican, who insisted on a December 2005 sunset for some of its provisions.

But the secrecy surrounding the use of some of the USA Patriot Act's provisions worries nonpoliticos.

"A lot of this is conjecture and speculation, fear and paranoia," said Charles Lewis, executive director of the Center for Public Integrity, a government watchdog. "Maybe there is a good reason for it in national security, but then you owe it to the American people to explain it."

"The secrecy is excessive," he added.

The reason for the secrecy is simple, Carallo said: "We're at war."

Looming threat
What Vice President Dick Cheney refers to as a "new normalcy," is actually very old. From the Alien and Sedition Acts of 1798 to the FBI's monitoring of religious and political groups during the 1960s and `70s, individual rights have been sacrificed for national security and stability.

"Our nation does not have an unblemished record protecting civil liberties," FBI Director Robert Mueller III said in 2002 at Stanford Law School while discussing how the FBI must meet the present terrorism challenge.

"Any time in history when we really tried to sacrifice civil liberties for added security, the result has not been worth the pain," said James Carafano, a senior research fellow on defense and homeland security at The Heritage Foundation, a conservative think tank based in Washington.

To be sure, terrorism is real. The Department of Homeland Security says the threat will escalate as the November presidential election approaches.

"Al-Qaida wants to target things that either cause mass casualties, mass economic damage or (are) icons of America," said Gary Winuk, chief deputy director of the California office of Homeland Security, "and we have lots of that."

The 9-11 commission reported the intelligence community was asleep leading up to the attacks. Despite an urgent request to discuss terrorist threats with President Bush on Jan. 21, 2001, counterterrorism chief Richard Clarke was not allowed to meet with Cabinet-level officials until seven days before the attacks.

Fixing the system
Still, the attacks probably could not have been prevented, the commission reported, recommending an overhaul of the dismembered intelligence community. Nowhere in the 428-page report did the commission suggest increasing surveillance of U.S. citizens.

"The 9-11 commission didn't paint these terrorists out to be 10 feet tall. These guys could have been caught," Carafano said. "We need to take these guys seriously. On the other hand, we don't need to destroy democracy and spend ourselves into the ground fighting them."

Yet, the president's pick to head the CIA is pushing for broader domestic spying powers. Rep. Porter Goss, R-Fla, introduced a bill in June to give the CIA power to monitor American citizens.

Goss declined requests for an interview.

"We're not on the door of fascism, but history moves very quickly," said Jim Lafferty, executive director of the Los Angeles Chapter of the National Lawyers Guild.

"If there were to be another heinous attack like there was on Sept. 11, I shudder to think what the government might do and what the American public might accept."

Thursday, July 01, 2004

Suit Alleges Racism in Rialto

Suit alleges racism in Rialto Police chief faces claim of discrimination against non-black employees 

By BRAD A. GREENBERG, Staff Writer

RIALTO - Police Chief Michael Meyers was hired six years ago to clean up racism. He now stands accused of fostering it.

A department that for years was said to be filled with white bigots is now giving preferential treatment to black employees, according to former and current employees and a $10 million lawsuit filed this week in San Bernardino Superior Court.

Meyers dismisses his critics as the bigots who once dominated the department and "needed to go.'

While he and Deputy Chief Arthur Burgess are black, four of their five lieutenants are white; one is Latino. Since he took the top post in May 1998, however, 64 officers including two captains, four lieutenants and seven sergeants have left the Rialto Police Department.

At least six of those former employees are Latino. The overwhelming majority are white. More than a dozen former and current employees contacted by The Sun declined to go on the record because they said they feared retaliation.

In an interview last week, Meyers said employees left because they did not like the changes he made. Many of them had been around during the years preceding Meyers, when claims of racism, sexism and criminal activity were regulary made against the department. "Other individuals in this organization could not deal with the changes in this community, specifically ethnicity,' Meyers said.

During the 1990s, Rialto's Latino population more than doubled to 51 percent. The white percentage of the population was halved, from 44 percent in 1990 to 21.5 percent in 2000. The black population percentage remained near 21 percent.

In 2000, Rialto had a larger population percentage of blacks then any other Inland Empire city, and was the only city where the white population was third largest.

But in the Police Department, whites are still the majority. Of the current sworn employees, 56 are white, 25 are black and 21 are Latino, according to figures released by the chief in May. Five others are Asian and American Indians.

"Change occurred in the community, and the Police Department did not change at the same time,' Meyers said of the demographics. "There was abject racism in the organization.'

On Monday, a Latino police officer filed a civil suit stating Meyers has engaged in systemic racism against non-black employees. Officer Aaron Vigil claims racism resulted in turmoil that cost him personally and has been a detriment to the community the department serves.

The defendants the city of Rialto, the Police Department, Meyers, Burgess and Officer Robert Carroll had not received the suit as of Wednesday. Meyers referred all questions to City Attorney Bob Owen. "Allegations are easy to make, and we will be looking into it as soon as I get a copy of the complaint,' Owen said.

Vigil, 33, joined the Police Department the same month as Meyers. The father of four is married to a dispatcher in the department. He is on medical leave and is expected to return to work in the next two weeks.

He referred questions to his attorney, Joseph Haytas of Upland. The attorney said the culture in the Police Department has affected officers on the street. "If things are tough at home, things are always tougher on the outside,' Haytas said.

The lawsuit states there were numerous attempts to ruin Vigil's career, even though several black officers hired by Meyers were not disciplined adequately for "egregious conduct.'

Vigil's duties as a field-training officer and SWAT team member were revoked this year after an internal affairs investigation into a "sexually suggestive' e-mail sent to a dispatcher. E-mails unrelated to work are common in any organization, Haytas said. "It certainly was not of a sexual nature,' he said.

About the same time, internal affairs investigated claims he had groped a female officer. Nothing was found. Two years earlier, then-dispatcher Carla McCullough accused Vigil of making a racist remark about another female employee. An internal investigation cleared him.

In Vigil's lawsuit and in documents obtained by The Sun, the conduct of black officers Darrell Lockley and Roddrick Clayton and Sgt. McCullough were called into question. Vigil claims they got preferential treatment because of their race. Other current and former officers contacted by The Sun made the same accusations.

Lockley was convicted of two counts of felony check forgery in 1990. His convictions were reduced to misdemeanors, according to documents filed in Los Angeles Superior Court in 1995.

He also failed background checks made by the CHP, Torrance, Compton and Los Angeles Park police departments, according to a confidential investigative memo obtained by The Sun.

Lockley, who was hired in 1999, declined three requests for comment. In the memo, a background investigator told Meyers he had "serious concerns about keeping Lockley on the payroll.' Meyers told The Sun he is not obligated to explain why he hired someone convicted of check forgery.The memo states that Lockley's criminal history will jeopardize his "integrity and credibility as a witness in a court of law.'

"You can imagine the jury thinking, 'How can I really trust you if you were arrested for theft? If you lied once, why wouldn't you lie again?'' said UCLA criminal law professor Sharon Dolovich.

McCullough once was placed on a performance improvement plan after she failed to finish police reports in a timely manner once holding onto a traffic collision report for more than 90 days, according to a confidential memo dated September 1998.

In a telephone interview last week, she said she was never ordered into such a program, and she is sure that document is not in her personnel file. "Maybe it was something proposed that never got me,' she said.

In January 1999, Internal Affairs pursued an "investigation leading to possible criminal charges against Officer McCullough for falsifying reports,' according to another confidential memo. It is unclear if the case was forwarded to the District Attorney's Office. Charges were never filed.

Two months later, McCullough received a letter of reprimand from Meyers because she was seen driving around with the "N' word on her license plate holder. She said a friend gave her the holder because it had the lyrics to a rap song she liked.

Clayton was arrested Dec. 23, 2000, on suspicion of shoving his ex-girlfriend, Euridici Johnson, and then waiving a department-issued handgun at two of her friends who were trying to pull her away, according to police reports. The officer was off-duty at the time. Clayton did not respond to repeated requests for comment.

In the police report, Clayton admitted pulling out his gun, but he said it was in self-defense. Witnesses to the incident said Clayton had pointed his gun at them as they were trying to take his ex-girlfriend back into the apartment. Three weeks later, the District Attorney's Office declined to file charges. "I'm not saying no crime was committed,' Deputy District Attorney Vic Stull said at the time. "I'm saying we didn't think we could prove it without a shadow of a doubt.'

State law prohibits Chief Meyers from commenting about the personnel issues of Lockley, Clayton or McCullough without their permission. He said he would not ask them to waive their privacy rights to explain the situations.

Speaking generally about hiring and retention standards, Meyers said he is not opposed to hiring somebody who learned from the mistakes they made earlier in life. "People can change,' he said.

Last year, Lockley and Clayton received Medals of Valor for saving two children. In May, a semi-annual two-day investigation by the Commission on Police Officer Standards and Training reported hiring and training standards at the Police Department met state regulations.

Whoever leaked confidential documents to The Sun is frustrated by the success of black employees in the Police Department, Meyers said. The chief has asked an outside agency to find those who slipped the confidential documents to the press. He declined to say which agency.

"You'd have to be blind to think that the only people who have ever done anything wrong in this organization are African-American,' he said.

In April, white Officer John Candias was punished for working as a private investigator for Rancho Cucamonga teen Greg Haidl, who is charged in a high-profile gang-rape case. Rialto police officers must have administrative approval to do private investigations. Working for a defense team is not permitted. Meyers would not discuss details of the punishment.

Before Meyers was hired, the department had five chiefs in six years. The city's first black chief, Dennis Hegwood, abruptly resigned after four years.

Hegwood said rank-and-file officers discriminated against him. The police union said it was Hegwood's inability, not race, that motivated a no-confidence vote in the former Los Angeles Housing Authority lieutenant.

Meyers took the job in the midst of a Department of Justice investigation into allegations of racism and sexism. The former Oakland deputy chief was expected to end the allegations and lawsuits. He now is a party to one.